Dec 21, 2011|
(USA) Directed by Guy Ritchie. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Rachel McAdams, Stephen Fry, Kelly Reilly. Category IIA.
Back in 2009, when Guy Ritchie whimsically decided to transform an iconic Victorian sleuth into a Bond-esque action hero and film franchise carrier, the world of film critics swiftly divided itself into two camps: the puristic, conservative attackers, and the progressive, liberal supporters. And I, with a massive soft spot for Robert Downey Jr. and some remaining faith in Ritchie, discreetly camped with the latter. It was a good bet, especially taking into account that the first “Sherlock Holmes” grossed more than half a billion US dollars worldwide.
“A Game of Shadows,” though, has arrived two years later with slightly diminishing returns. Partially based on “The Final Problem” (one of the most famous Sherlock stories by Arthur Conan Doyle) but more of a brainchild of husband-and-wife screenwriting duo Kieran and Michele Mulroney, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson’s new screen escapade, again directed by Ritchie, bares the exact same traits of the previous one—most noticeably the steampunk aesthetics, with excessive style and insufficient substance. Thanks to a fine overall production, Downey’s irresistible charm and the entrance of Sherlock’s arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty, the extravagant sequel carries out gags and mild suspense smoothly and remains rather entertaining throughout the two-hour running time. However, with many elements starting to look tiresome and hackneyed, the film shows alarming signs of going down the ill-fated “Pirates of the Caribbean” path if the director drags the franchise along without making changes in future installments.
Entering the picture this time is the movie’s highlight, Professor Moriarty (a scene-stealing Jared Harris), a well-respected and suave science scholar who is in fact the criminal mastermind behind a string of recent bombings that have escalated tensions between France and Germany. With ambitions in the munitions industry, Moriarty is hatching sinister plans to ignite continent-wide wars. On the other hand, reuniting with Watson (Jude Law) before the doctor’s wedding, Sherlock—still extremely intelligent and astoundingly selfish—throws a two-man stag party solely for the purpose of investigating the bombing cases. He then promptly ruins it by saving the life of gypsy fortune-teller Simza (the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” Noomi Rapace) from an assassin, which puts the lives of himself and the newlyweds in danger. Thus, a semi-reluctant Watson is again recruited as the erudite detective’s crime-solving partner. To catch Moriarty, whom Sherlock calls "the Napoleon of Crime," the duo embarks on a globe-trotting chase through France, Germany and, finally, Switzerland’s Reichenbach Falls—the alleged location of Sherlock’s death in the original book.
Harris—most notably from “Mad Men”—is triumphant as the deliciously nefarious Moriarty. In comparison, Downey’s Sherlock, despite his eminent charisma, is often stripped down to his unapologetic cheekiness and eccentricity, and lacks flesh and blood. The supporting actors all submit okay turns, though all the female characters are very thinly written. Stephen Fry appears as a pleasant surprise, playing Sherlock’s well-connected brother, Mycroft, and sashaying (nakedly) through his fitting comic role.
The Mulroneys, whose only previous film credit is the little-seen quirky indie film “Paper Man,” take a bold leap into mainstream cinema, and their effort is a mixture of hits and misses. The central pair’s banter is amusing at first, but it wears out pretty quickly. Thankfully, the stale bickering is made bearable by Downey and Law’s winning chemistry. They also take their bromance to a whole new level, if that’s even possible. Oscar-winning cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (“Big Fish,” “Queen Margot”), who shot the first film, frames the second one with the same retro texture and ominous colors. But although his skills are undoubtedly exquisite, there are one too many slo-mo action sequences. There is, of course, silliness and emptiness in this blithe romp, but the film moves so fast that most of those moments didn’t occur to me until afterward. It is a good strategy, but also a shame, since the best parts of the film are the quieter, slower scenes where the two foes—Sherlock and Moriarty—square off in a chess game of the mind.